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Civil War Articles
The Third Day at Gettysburg
Colonel Patrick O'Rorke
Stanley at Shiloh: A Improbable 'Indiana Jones'
Ringgold Cavalry in Alleghenies
Special Order 191: Ruse of War?
15th Illinois Infantry
8th New Hampshire Infantry
Confederate Railroad
Shenandoah Campaign
Fredericksburg Campaign
Commanders and Censors
Unconventional Warfare
Sun Tzu and Overland Campaign
ACW Military Theory
Bear Creek Massacre
Nutmeggers on Antietam Creek
Nathan Bedford Forrest
The City Point Explosion
Dalton to Atlanta-Sherman vs. Johnston
The Maple Leaf Adventure
The Battle of Pea Ridge
History of 138th PA
The Battle of Franklin
Want of Nail: Confederate Ironclads
Battle of Wilson's Creek
Life and Death of the 10th NJ Inf
The Death of General Zook
Barrancas: The First Shots
Custer and the Battle of Waynesboro
Skirmish in the East Woods
The Battle Rainbow
The Mistake of All Mistakes
Stony Hill Tour
6th WI at Gettysburg
Witmer Farm
Barlow's Knoll
Wheatfield at Gettysburg

Mark Hudziak Articles
15th Illinois Infantry
8th New Hampshire Infantry

Recommended Reading


The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862-July 1863


The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth


The Fifteenth Illinois Infantry
The Fifteenth Illinois Infantry

by Mark Hudziak

On April 20th, 1861 the people of Belvidere, Illinois met at the local courthouse in response to President Abraham Lincoln's call for the military enlistment of 75,000 men following the surrender of Fort Sumter to Confederate forces at Charleston, South Carolina. Prominent citizens made fiery speeches, with Stephen A. Hurlbut, attorney at law and a friend of Lincoln, delivering "one of the most ringing and soul-stirring speeches that ever electrified an audience" according to one newspaper reporter caught up in the excitement of the moment.[1] Hurlbut was the first to sign the enlistment roll and by the end of the month a full company of 115 men had signed on. The men elected Hurlbut Captain of the company.[2] Following a brief send off ceremony (where a local reporter observed that "to the credit of all, nobody tried to make a speech") the company departed by train for Freeport, Illinois on May 11th. At Freeport, it joined with nine other companies and formed the Fifteenth Illinois Infantry, beginning a long, bloody journey through the campaigns of the western Union armies.[3]

The ten companies in the regiment originated from seven northern Illinois counties.[4] Several men from neighboring southern Wisconsin helped fill the ranks.[5] The regiment was mustered into Federal service on May 24th, with Thomas J. Turner elected Colonel of the regiment, narrowly defeating Stephen Hurlbut.[6] However, Hurlbut soon left the regiment for bigger things; Lincoln appointed him a brigadier general of volunteers on June 14th.[7]

After spending the early summer at Alton, Illinois in drill and instruction, the Fifteenth was sent to St. Charles, Missouri in mid July. The regiment spent the rest of 1861 at various points in that border state.[8] At Rolla, Missouri in August, the Fifteenth Illinois and Fourteenth Illinois Infantry were camped next to each other and began a close relationship that lasted throughout the war. "They regarded each other as brothers" recalled Private Lucius W. Barber of the Fifteenth's Company D. "In the field, on the march, in the fight, in victory or defeat, they were ever by our side".[9]

In February 1862, the Fifteenth was ordered to Fort Donelson, Tennessee to assist in the fighting at that important Confederate garrison on the Cumberland River. The regiment arrived on February 16th, a few hours after the fort's defenders surrendered to Union forces. "We were all eager to get to the scene of action in time to participate in the fight" wrote a disappointed Lucius Barber.[10] They would not have to wait much longer to see action.

In March, the Fifteenth was assigned to the Second Brigade of the Fourth Division of Major General Ulysses S. Grant's six division Army of the Tennessee. Colonel James C. Veatch was in charge of the brigade, and General Hurlbut commanded the division.[11] The army began a movement south in March on a new campaign with the objective of securing the railroad center at Corinth, Mississippi. The Fifteenth marched to Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, boarded river transports and headed south to the vicinity of Savannah, Tennessee, disembarking at Pittsburg Landing on March 5th.[12] Additional troops continued to arrive for the next month and by early April Grant had 45,000 men present.[13] Meanwhile, with Colonel Turner ill and away from the regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Edward F.W. Ellis drilled the men every day and "we soon became nearly perfect" Lucius Barber recalled.[14] Ellis was popular with the men, often standing up to superior officers to get fair treatment for his soldiers. "We saw the stuff he was made of and the bold stand he took for his own and our rights and we would have followed him to the death if he had so ordered" Lucius Barber remembered, adding "Illinois sent no nobler man to the field than Lieutenant Colonel Edward F.W. Ellis."[15]

Many of the men were eating breakfast on the morning of Sunday, April 6th when they heard the sound of gunfire coming from the southwest. A member of Hurlbut's staff "was seen riding at full speed toward my headquarters" recalled brigade commander Veatch. "His brief message was: ‘We are attacked by a heavy force. General Hurlbut directs that you move to the support of [Brigadier] General [William T.] Sherman's left!' The long roll was sounded and in an instant every regiment was in line."[16] The Battle of Shiloh had begun.

The brigade advanced to the Pittsburg-Corinth road near a field used for reviewing troops. A line of battle had formed to the front, and the brigade moved into position for a second line. The Fifteenth was on the right of the brigade, and its right was covered by another regiment.[17] . The 14th Ohio Battery was in front of the Fifteenth, and the artillerymen opened fire on the advancing Confederates, drawing heavy return fire that also landed amongst the Illinois men "with deadly accuracy" recalled Veatch. The Fifteenth was ordered to lie down.[18]

Confederate infantry led by the 27th Tennessee and 16th Alabama Regiments of Brigadier General Sterling A.M. Wood's Brigade soon overran the 14th Ohio Battery and drove back the artillery's infantry support. Seeing overwhelming numbers of advancing enemy soldiers, the regiment covering the Fifteenth's right "broke and ran without firing a gun" according to Lucius Barber and other witnesses in the Fifteenth Illinois.[19] Its departure left the Fifteenth exposed to enemy fire from both the front and right.[20] As the Confederate infantrymen closed in, the regiment was ordered to stand and fire.[21]

"The Fifteenth Illinois…sent its fire into their ranks with great precision and effect," Veatch recalled. "Their volleys mowed down the front ranks, but these were filled by the reserves. Suddenly, as if in the execution of a long delayed purpose, they opened a converging fire on our position from right, left, and center."[22] Early in the action, Lieutenant Colonel Ellis suffered an arm wound, but stayed in position and continued giving orders until he was shot in the heart and killed. Major William R. Goddard was killed a few moments before Ellis.[23] Captain Harley Wayne of Company D approached Lucius Barber "and called my attention to a rebel soldier concealed behind a root. He turned, and immediately received his death wound."[24] All but two of the regiment's captains were killed or wounded as well several lieutenants, "yet the men stood their ground like veterans amid a perfect storm of shell and bullets", Captain Louis Kelly noted in the regiment's after action report.[25]

The men fired 10 to 15 rounds each "until it was found impossible to maintain our position and keep from being taken prisoner" Kelly recalled.[26] With few officers available to give orders, the regiment retreated in confusion and was forced to leave its dead and wounded on the field. "After falling back some distance Captain [George] Rogers (who had been wounded by a piece of shell in the breast and arm), Adjutant [Charles] Barber, and myself rallied what men we could, and started in search of the brigade, but being unable to find it…we fell in with parts of other regiments and prepared to meet the enemy" Kelly wrote.[27]

As the Union forces were driven back, the men of the Fifteenth stopped and formed lines with other regiments, fighting as long as they could before the relentless Confederate onslaught compelled them to retire and reform again. The Federals were driven back to the boat landing on the Tennessee River where Grant formed a defensive line augmented by artillery and gunboats on the river. The southern attack finally ended as evening fell.[28]

During the night, some of the men that had become separated from the regiment found their way back and rejoined it. The Fifteenth had 212 men present on the morning of April 7th. With no one above the rank of Captain left (Sergeants were in command of some companies, and a Corporal was in charge of Company D), Veatch gave temporary command of the regiment to Lieutenant Colonel William Camm of the Fourteenth Illinois.[29] Bolstered by the overnight arrival of reinforcements from Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, Grant attacked.[30] Veatch's brigade was held in reserve in support of other troops until the afternoon when Grant himself ordered the brigade forward to charge the enemy. Confederate forces were driven from the field, and the Federals retook the ground they had lost the day before.[31]

The Battle of Shiloh was over. The Union Army had suffered over 13,000 total casualties. The Fifteenth Illinois listed its losses as 49 killed and 117 wounded for a total of 166.[32]

After Shiloh, Major General Henry Halleck assembled three Union armies at Pittsburg Landing and began a slow drive to Corinth. On the night of May 29th, with the huge Federal force on the outskirts of the town, the greatly outnumbered Confederate forces quietly escaped and Corinth fell into Union hands. During this drive, the Fifteenth was engaged in frequent, and occasionally, sharp fighting along the picket lines.[33] The regiment was then ordered to Memphis, Tennessee, where it remained until it was sent to Bolivar, Tennessee in September.[34]

On October 4th, the Fifteenth Illinois and the rest of Hurlbut's division left Bolivar and marched for Corinth. A large Confederate force under Major General Earl Van Dorn had tried and failed to retake Corinth. The opposing forces clashed the next day at a crossing of the Hatchie River in Tennessee called Davis Bridge.[35]

Veatch, who was now a Brigadier General, deployed his brigade in line of battle on some high ground west of Davis Bridge with the Fifteenth Illinois on the left flank. Union and Confederate artillery traded fire with each other for about 45 minutes, with the Federals gaining the upper hand. After the Rebel fire decreased, the union line was ordered forward.[36]

The Federals rapidly pushed forward toward a Confederate line defending the crossing on the west side of the Hatchie. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Illinois regiments were on the left of the road leading to Davis Bridge, while the rest of the brigade was on the right. The right side regiments struck the southerners first. While the defenders were occupied with that, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth concealed themselves in a cornfield and opened fire with deadly results.[37] The Confederate commander, Brigadier General John C. Moore, wrote that "a perfect shower of balls was poured into our right flank from the direction of the corn field". He ordered his men to retreat across the river.[38]

The Fifteenth Illinois swept forward and assisted in the capture of over 100 prisoners whose escape was cut off from Davis Bridge. Veatch's brigade was then ordered to cross the river and form in line of battle.[39] From their positions on a ridge east of the bridge, the Confederates poured artillery and rifle fire into the lead regiments as they tried to cross the bridge. The Fifteenth Illinois managed to cross amidst "much confusion and I at one time feared that the regiment would be scattered" wrote the now Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers. But the regiment held together and formed on the left side of fragmented line, and found good cover in a wooded area behind some fallen timber.[40]

Eventually, the entire division managed to cross the bridge and advance upon the enemy defenders, driving them off of the ridge. But the Federals were unable to organize any kind of pursuit, and the southern forces crossed the Hatchie River at another location. This engagement, known by various names including Battle of Davis Bridge and Battle of the Hatchie River, cost 570 union casualties. The Fifteenth Illinois had been fortunate in escaping with only 6 men wounded and one captured.[41]

In the months following Davis Bridge, there were several changes in the regiment's chain of command. Colonel Turner resigned his commission, and Lieutenant Colonel Rogers was promoted to Colonel and assumed command. Rogers' tenure nearly ended as soon as it began. The colorful Rogers gathered some friends for a celebration that included plenty of alcohol. He then decided to go for a ride on his horse "and rode at a furious rate" along a railroad track "never stopping for bridges or culverts" recalled Lucius Barber. While jumping over one culvert, the horse fell and tossed Rogers over its head. The Colonel landed head first on a rail and received a huge gash on his face, but recovered.[42] The regiment was also assigned to the Second Brigade, Fourth Division of the XVI Corps, with Brigadier General Jacob G. Lauman commanding the division and Colonel Cyrus Hall leading the brigade.[43]

In May 1863, Lauman's command was sent to reinforce General Grant's army as it attempted to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi.[44] The Federals were beginning siege operations following two unsuccessful attempts to capture the city by assault. Lauman's division arrived on May 25th and went into position on the extreme left of the Union line on the southern end of the city near the Warrenton Road. The Fifteenth Illinois and the rest of Hall's brigade were placed about 600 yards south of a Confederate fortification known as South Fort.[45] The regiment was greeted with Rebel shelling as it went into position.[46] The division stayed there until May 30th when it was ordered northeast to the Hall's Ferry road sector.[47] The regiment settled into a routine of picket duty with frequent exchanges of fire with the besieged defenders as the Union troops inched their works closer to the Confederate lines, continuing until the city surrendered on July 4th.[48]

The men had little time to celebrate this important victory. On July 5th, the regiment marched east as part of General Sherman's campaign against General Joseph E. Johnston's army at Jackson, Mississippi. This affair ended quickly as Johnston evacuated his forces from the city on July 16th.[49]

After retuning from Jackson, the Fourth Division of the XVI Corps was assigned to the XVII Corps under the command of Major General James McPherson. The Fifteenth was also moved down the Mississippi River to Natchez, Mississippi where it remained until November.[50] During this time, it participated in an early September expedition across the river to Harrisonburg, Louisiana and assisted in the capture of Fort Beauregard. Most of the action consisted of light skirmishing as the Confederate defenders abandoned the fort when the Federals approached.[51] The regiment returned to Vicksburg in the middle of November.[52]

The regiment next saw action in February 1864 as part of General Sherman's Meridian Campaign. Sherman's objective was the destruction of the railroads in that eastern Mississippi city.[53] On February 4th, Colonel Hall's brigade was advancing east as the lead brigade of the XVII Corps when it encountered enemy opposition at the site of the previous year's battle at Champion Hill. The Fifteenth was deployed as skirmishers and "became earnestly engaged with the enemy, who disputed every inch of ground with ability and determination" according to Colonel Hall. The Illinois men continued to press forward all day and advanced several miles until they were finally relieved when their ammunition ran low. The Fifteenth came through this engagement with only one man seriously wounded.[54] After destroying railroad track north of the town of Enterprise, Mississippi (which Colonel Hall noted "was done in a most thorough manner, every tie being burned and every rail bent for a distance of 6 miles"), Hall's brigade returned to Vicksburg in early March.[55]

The three year enlistments of the regiment's original members were expiring, so after returning from the Meridian expedition those men that did not reenlist were discharged. Those that did reenlist went home on a month long Veteran Furlough. The veterans gathered in Freeport, Illinois and prepared to depart for the south again in late April. The regiments' former commander, Colonel Turner, gave the men a farewell speech. "He spoke with considerable feeling" recalled Lucius Barber adding "Colonel Turner then treated all who wished to a glass of beer".[56]

The Fifteenth rejoined the Seventeenth Corps in June in northern Georgia, joining in General Sherman's Atlanta Campaign. The regiment had been greatly reduced in numbers due to casualties and expiration of enlistments, and on July 1st, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Illinois Infantry Regiments were consolidated into one unit. Recognizing the pride the men had in their regimental identities, the unit was designated as The Veteran Battalion Fourteenth and Fifteenth Infantry Volunteers. Colonel Rogers commanded the unit's 625 officers and men.[57]

The battalion was assigned to garrison duty at various points throughout the summer and fall of 1864, including Allatoona Pass, Ackworth, and Big Shanty. This duty was not without its hazards; attacks on Ackworth and Big Shanty in October resulted in the capture of a portion of the battalion and imprisonment at Andersonville Prison.[58]

The battalion left the Atlanta area in mid November bound for Savannah, Georgia as part of General Sherman's March to the Sea. In January 1865, the unit headed north as part of the Campaign of the Carolinas, generally seeing light action at various points in the Carolinas culminating with skirmishing on March 21st in the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina. General Johnston surrendered his army on April 26.[59]

On April 28th, the Veteran Battalion was discontinued and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Regiments again were separate units following the addition of sufficient numbers of new recruits. The reorganized Fifteenth marched north to Washington D.C. and participated in the victory parade known as The Grand Review on May 24th.[60]

With the war now over, the men waited to be mustered out of service, but the government wasn't through with them yet. The regiment was ordered to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to counter possible trouble with Plains Indian tribes. "Our anger and astonishment new no bounds" wrote Lucius Barber recalling this unexpected extension of duty, adding "Symptoms of mutiny began to manifest itself". Some veterans who'd had enough deserted, and those who remained went under protest. To quell this discontent, the army granted furloughs to many of the remaining veterans. The rest of the regiment marched from Kansas to Fort Kearney, Nebraska. By the time they got there in mid August, the problems had been resolved, and the men turned around and marched back to Fort Leavenworth. The regiment was finally mustered out at Fort Leavenworth on September 16, 1865.[61] The Fifteenth suffered 87 battle deaths and lost 140 more to disease in four years and four months of service.[62]

Show Footnotes and Bibliography

* * *

Copyright © 2009 Mark Hudziak.

Written by Mark Hudziak. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Mark Hudziak at:
iammarkh@gmail.com.

About the author:
Mark Hudziak has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin--Whitewater and is employed as an analytical chemist in Wisconsin, where he lives with his family. He also enjoys history and visiting historic sites including battlefields and has had articles published in a Civil War magazine.

Published online: 04/05/2009.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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